Unlike movies, magazines, newspapers, manga, comics, websites, and so on, writing does not offer a visual for people. Words must paint the picture so many other medias naturally provide. In fact, everything in a story falls upon the words, from tone to setting to characters to any deeper meaning of the text. This means that the author has to be careful when selecting which words he/she uses to create an affective picture, words that lets the reader see what a picture could have otherwise provided.
Just how can authors use words to create images as vivid as a movie, especially when considering that less and less people want to read as the world becomes more visually driven?
Well, it’s all in the details.
It’s always frustrating when you want to describe, say, a room in a story. Unlike a movie, the reader cannot “see” the room in your head. He/she doesn’t know about the books and the title of those books sitting on the floor. He/she can’t see the faded blue walls, wooden and unpolished floor, or the chip in the corner of the door. He/she has no idea the picture of the grandpa—the reader has no idea what he looks like, by the way—is faded and hanging at a slight angle. Nope. Instead, you have to tell the reader.
Then the question is, how much do you tell the reader?
Here’s the great advantage books have over visual mediums: you get to decide what the readers “see” and the reader gets to decide the rest. Unlike a movie, which tells you everything but smell, a book only tells the reader what the author has put down. If you don’t tell the reader the color of the walls, the reader gets to decide what color he/she wants the walls to be. In this way, books allow for a lot more imagination than something that provides a picture. The trick is that the author must know what to describe and what to leave for the reader to imagine.
Hence, “it’s all in the details.”
That’s right. It, generally, is better to describe the little things about the room. Describe a few key visual elements of a room or object or person or so on. Does that person have a chipped tooth? Is that jacket’s right sleeve slightly frayed? Does the floor creak or smell like wood? Give the reader a some sensory elements that add to the tone (and perhaps even meaning or clues) of the story.
For example, if you have a character whose past seems to follow him/her, have a stain on the carpet that just won’t clean no matter how hard he/she tries. It doesn’t have to be such an obvious connection, but you can use clues like that to guide the reader down a path and let the reader explore the world around it.
As always, if you have any questions, let me know. I’d be happy to answer them for you!